Open Letter to the Inspector-General of the National Police

Port-au-Prince, November 29, 2002

Mr. Harvel Victor Jean Baptiste

Office of the Inspector-General, National Police of Haiti

Rue Oscar, Pacot, Port-au-Prince, Haiti

Dear Sir,

The National Coalition for the Rights of Haitians (NCHR) is deeply concerned by the unspeakable behavior of some members of the PNH during these times of major political turmoil, and believes that it is necessary to write to you, as Chief General Inspector of Police, in an effort to obtain that your organization take the urgent steps necessary to maintain the trust of the population in its police force.

A review of recent events in the country confirms that the Police failed in its mission. Except the case of Cap-Haitien, where a thorough safety plan was implemented to protect the demonstrations during the Weekend of Unity (November 16-17, 2002), the National Police (PNH) displayed an outrageous lack of professionalism in several areas of the country.

Several examples can be cited, including:

1- The case of Petit-Goave

On Wednesday November 20, 2002, high school students from Lycee Faustin Soulouque and students from middle schools of that city took to the streets in Petit-Goave, to say that they had enough of the Lavalas regime. The reason for the students? claims were:

The increase of registration fees for officials exams to five hundred gourdes (Gdes. 500.00) for the regular ninth grade, and seven hundred and fifty gourdes (Gdes. 750.00) for the graduating year.

The high cost of living
Shortage of electricity, etc.

The demonstration turned into an anti-government protest when, at the intersection of Republican and Lamarre Streets, Police decided to shoot directly at the demonstrators. Following is a list of students who were harmed during that unspeakable act:

Wagner, College Paul Lochard, 3rd grade, 19 years, Hit by three bullets, including two in his lower abdomen and one in his femur

POINT DU JOUR Joseph, Lycee Faustin Soulouque, 9th grade regular, 19 years, Wounded in his left collarbone

TATAILLE Wilbin, College Saint Antoine de Padoue, 2nd grade regular, 13 years, Wounded in his left collarbone

CHERY Getro, College Paul Lochard, 8th grade regular, 20 years, Wounded in his left shinbone

MILIEN Junior, Lycee Faustin Soulouque, year before last, 20 years, Wounded in his left leg

CEBIEN Toussaint, College Frères Unis, 8th grade regular, 22 years, Slightly wounded in his back

THERMILIEN Berthony, Lycee Faustin Soulouque, last year, 23 years, Wounded in his left hand

LEGER Nivenson, College Paul Lochard, 10 years, Wounded in his right leg
The NCHR finds the statements made by officials of the National Police of Haiti, trying to justify the behavior of police officers in Petit-Goave, to be little short of nauseating and revolting. While it acknowledges having shot at students, the police claims that it did so in self-defense, since the demonstrators had tried to lower the flag of the police station.

Everyone knows that self-defense tends to cancel the criminal responsibility of any person who, in order to stop a crime or a felony against another person or a property, executes an act of defense whenever such act is necessary to accomplish the intended goal, as long as the means are proportional to the gravity of the aggression. In the case of Petit-Goave, one might wonder whether the weapons used by the police officers were proportional to best tactical pen the students had available, as well as the books and other school materials carried by the children. Anyway, self-defense must be ruled by an investigating judge or a court, and not by Police Headquarters. The PNH cannot be at the same time the judge and the judged.

The NCHR recalls that the police station of Petit-Goave has a record of human rights violations. The murder of police officer Ricardo Benjamin at the same police station during the night of February 9 to 10, 2002, could be another such example. It is a case of suspicious death. Two opposing theories were then formulated about this crime.

According to the first one, this crime was an act of vandalism. Those who defend this theory ? particularly the police officers ? would have us believe that the police station had been attacked from the front during the night of February 9 to 10, 2002. For a few minutes, the police station came twice under heavy gunfire. It is only during the second attack that police officer Ricardo Benjamin was allegedly killed by a bullet hitting him in the head.

According to the second theory, police officer Ricardo Benjamin  was in a cowardly fashion assassinated by his colleagues. Those who defend this theory claim that, prior to the heavy shooting that resulted in Ricardo?s death, there had been a heated argument inside the police station.

The assassination of police officer Ricardo Benjamin  therefore remains surrounded by major confusion. As of today, no bullet marks have been detected on the front walls of the police station. Moreover, that police officer was hit behind his head, on the right side, while a bullet fired by an alleged attacker would have hit him from the front.

The NCHR hopes that, unlike the case of Ricardo Benjamin , there will be an impartial investigation about the events of Petit-Goave, especially in light of the widespread belief that police officer Jean Bernard was one of those who shot at the demonstrators.

II- The case of Port-au-Prince

Friday November 22, 2002, was one more experience for Port-au-Prince as a paralyzed city, due to the actions of popular organizations supporting the government. It was a particularly grave movement, that endangered the population. It carried enormous risks of injuring or permanently maiming people. The police, refusing to intervene, claimed the movement?s spontaneity as an excuse.

The NCHR?s opinion is that the PNH was guilty by omission for non-assistance, according to the theory of guilt by omission expressed by LOYSEL in the saying: ?If you can stop it, but don?t, you are guilty.?

III- The case of Gonaives

For some time, the city of Gonaives has been in a state of total anarchy. ?The Cannibal Army,? led by fugitive Amiot Metayer, is spreading terror and imposing its will on the population. The police is practically inexistent in that major city of the Republic. Even Kenaz Jean Baptiste Saint Pierre, Esq., Department Delegate and first Representative of the government at the departmental level, was practically dismissed by the head of the ?Cannibal Army,? who plans to replace her with Ketlin Telemaque, Esq., Deputy Commissioner at the District Court in that city.

The ?Cannibal Army? goes on day after day, adding to the list of its victims:

Friday November 22, 2002: Five persons are wounded, among which two students; nine journalists are forced to go into hiding.
These are:

1. Esdras Mondélus, Director of Radio Etincelle

2. Henry Fleurimond, Radio Kiskeya correspondent

3. Jean Robert François, Radio Métropole correspondent

4. Frantz Renel Lebrun, Radio Ibo correspondent

5. Josué Révé, Signal FM correspondent

6. Renais Noël Jeune, Radio Etincelle

7. Eric Julien, Caraïbes FM correspondent

8. Jean Niton Guérino, Radio Etincelle

9. Gédéon Présandieu, Radio Etincelle

Sunday November 24, 2002: Radio Etincelle of Gonaives is partially burned.

Monday November 25, 2002: Two (2) individuals are injured by gunshots, during a shooting between the ?Cannibal Army? and the residents of Descahos neighborhood. Among the injured was a student, Jacky Similien, from the College Chretien des Gonaives.

During all those shootings, Police refrained from intervening and never announced the arrest of any member of the ?Cannibal Army.? Even worse, Commissioner Jeannot Francois, head of the Central Judicial Police, declares that the police is not looking for Amiot Metayer, while the Ministry of Justice, in its latest report, states that the government has been trying to bring Amiot Metayer back to jail. The ?laisser-faire? attitude of Police in that city cannot be tolerated.
Tuesday November 26, 2002: Student Roberto Fils-Aime, from the regular 8th grade at College Union in Gonaives is wounded by gunshot.

The NCHR is of the opinion that the behavior of the PNH officers in the above-mentioned areas deserves to be sanctioned. The inspector-general must take action against those police officers who failed to perform their duty during those events, whatever their ranks. It is also important to bring to justice those who were guilty of violations of the Criminal Code.
Pierre Esperance,

NCHR Director